Boonen visited by police, training partner Vannoppen investigated

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By Susan Westemeyer

Tom Boonen was visited by the Belgian police at his parents' house on Wednesday in connection with a drug investigation of Belgian cyclo-cross rider Tom Vannoppen. According to the Gazet van Antwerpen, Vannoppen has been connected with the use of cocaine, and following a search of his house last week, he mentioned Boonen's name under questioning.

At a press conference Friday midday, Hasselt, Belgium, prosecutor Marc Rubens said that Boonen "had been tipped as Vannoppen's drug dealer," which is why his parents' house was searched. Rubens emphasized that nothing was found and said that he was disappointed that the information had been made public. "This way the image of the rider has been damaged, perhaps undeservedly so."

Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere confirmed: "On Wednesday, investigators rang at the house of Tom Boonen's parents. It was not a real search, they have simply been let in and put a couple of questions to Tom [Boonen]. The reason for this was a declaration from Tom Vannoppen. First they wanted to know if Tom [Boonen] lived there. He does not, but of course Tom told them that he visits there regularly."

Boonen "had a satisfactory answer to all the questions which were put to him. The complete matter lasted not longer than half an hour," Lefevere said. "They have nothing on him."

The investigators, who were sent by a court in Hasselt, Belgium, refused to comment on the matter. They conducted a search of Vannoppen's home last week, taking a laptop computer and a mobile phone into custody. There was no public explanation given for the search, but Het Laatste Nieuws reported Friday morning that Vannoppen tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition control this winter.

Vannoppen did not deny the search but said that he had no idea what they were looking for. "They took my mobile phone and my laptop. They also asked which vitamins I had in the house," he said.

The 29 year-old cyclo-crosser was dismissed by Team Sunweb-Projob last month and since then has ridden as an "elite without contract" for AVB, the second team of Fidea manager Hans Van Kasteren. The team also knew nothing about the purpose of the search, but "if suspected products were found, it is all over for Tom," said Van Kasteren.

"There have been rumours for a long time that Vannoppen suffers from depression," Lefevere told Sporza. "He used to be a training partner of Tom's, nothing more."

Quick Step said that it considered the matter to be Boonen's private business. "As a team we want to distance ourselves from this."

Boonen is currently in the Middle East to ride the Tour of Qatar, which starts on Sunday.

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